John Chrysostom on worldly and spiritual songs

I was reading John’s homily on the 42nd psalm this morning, and came across this passage. I rather liked it, so I decided to translate it and post it here.

Ἀπὸ μὲν γὰρ τῶν ἔξωθεν ᾀσμάτων βλάβη, καὶ ὄλεθρος, καὶ πολλὰ ἂν εἰσαχθείη δεινά· τὰ γὰρ ἀσελγέστερα καὶ παρανομώτερα τῶν ᾀσμάτων τούτων τοῖς τῆς ψυχῆς μέρεσιν ἐγγινόμενα, ἀσθενεστέραν αὐτὴν καὶ μαλακωτέραν ποιοῦσιν· ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν ψαλμῶν τῶν πνευματικῶν πολὺ μὲν τὸ κέρδος, πολλὴ δὲ ἡ ὠφέλεια, πολὺς δὲ ὁ ἁγιασμὸς, καὶ πάσης φιλοσοφίας ὑπόθεσις γένοιτ’ ἂν, τῶν τε ῥημάτων τὴν ψυχὴν ἐκκαθαιρόντων, τοῦ τε ἁγίου Πνεύματος τῇ τὰ τοιαῦτα ψαλλούσῃ ταχέως ἐφιπταμένου ψυχῇ. Ὅτι γὰρ οἱ μετὰ συνέσεως ψάλλοντες τὴν τοῦ Πνεύματος καλοῦσι χάριν, ἄκουσον τί φησιν ὁ Παῦλος· Μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ, ἐν ᾧ ἐστιν ἀσωτία, ἀλλὰ πληροῦσθε ἐν Πνεύματι. Ἐπήγαγε δὲ καὶ τὸν τρόπον τῆς πληρώσεως. Ἄδοντες καὶ ψάλλοντες ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν τῷ Κυρίῳ. Τί ἐστιν, Ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν; Μετὰ συνέσεως, φησίν· ἵνα μὴ τὸ στόμα μὲν λαλῇ τὰ ῥήματα, ἡ διάνοια δὲ ἔξω διατρίβῃ πανταχοῦ πλανωμένη, ἀλλ’ ἵνα ἀκούῃ ἡ ψυχὴ τῆς γλώττης. (PG 55.157)

For in the songs of the world there is harm, ruin, and much that would lead to danger. For all the licentiousness and lawlessness of these songs bring about divisions in the soul. But in the spiritual psalms, there is great gain, great benefit, great sanctification, and every tenant of philosophy may be found. By these words, the soul is cleansed, and the Holy Spirit is quick to be with the one who sings in this manner. For those who sing with understanding invoke the grace of the Spirit, which is why Paul says, “do not get drunk on wine, in which there is debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. ” Following this phrase on fullness, we hear, “singing and psalming in your hearts to the Lord.” What does it mean to sing “in your hearts to the Lord”? It means to sing with understanding, so that your mouth may not merely speak the words while your mind perishes, entirely deceived and separated. Instead, the soul should heed the tongue.

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